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WASHINGTON, July 25, 2003--Chinese authorities have released eight of 18 Tibetan asylum-seekers forcibly repatriated from Nepal in May, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports. Sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said the remaining 10 would-be refugees are expected to be released soon.

Their release comes earlier than expected. Chinese authorities told RFA in June that most of the group would be held for three months of re-education in Shigatse. One said the adults in the group could face criminal charges.

"The 10 who are still in the Shigatse (in Chinese, Xigaze) Detention Center had no relatives who could pay to get them out, so they're still in there," one source told RFA's Tibetan service. "All 18 were handed over to the Shigatse Detention Center [in June]. So far eight have arranged their release with help from relatives who paid the fines, and some officials who helped them through the back door."

The eight asylum-seekers who have been released were held in Shigatse between 20 and 30 days. Three are women. The names of those who have been freed weren't immediately available. Only one of the Tibetans, accused of guiding this or other groups in attempted escapes, is expected to be given a prison sentence.

No comment was immediately available from authorities in China or the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR).

The group was handed over to Chinese Embassy officials in Nepal on May 31 despite appeals by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees--prompting an outcry from Britain and the United States.

The 18 Tibetans, including women and children, entered Nepal in April hoping to reach the northern Indian base of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader. They were arrested and held for two months on charges of entering Nepal illegally.

Every year, hundreds of Tibetans cross over to Nepal on their way to Dharamsala in India, where the Dalai Lama has been living since he fled Tibet more than 40 ago. They are ordinarily kept in a transit camp in Kathmandu pending interviews with the UNHCR, which facilitates their travel to India. Only those with criminal records are deported to China.

The Tibetan asylum-seekers are identified as: Thupten Tsering 18; Lobsang Tenzen, 28; Kalsang Wangdu, 19; Tashi Choedon, 19; Yonten, 17; Rinchen Dolma, 17; Lobsang Jampa, 23; Tashi, 22; Tsultrim Gyatso, 17; Tenzen Nyima, 14; Lobsang Phuntsok, 21; Yeshi, 13; Rinchen Dhondup, 14; Gelek, 30; Yeshi Wangpo, 23; Lobsang Tenpa, 23; Yeshi Sangpo, 23; and Lobsang, 25.

Last month, another group of 19 Tibetans was arrested and handed over to the UNHCR for investigation. The commission is making arrangements for them to travel to Dharamsala.

RFA broadcasts news and information to Asian listeners who lack regular access to full and balanced reporting in their domestic media. Through its broadcasts and call-in programs, RFA aims to fill a critical gap in the lives of people across Asia. Created by Congress in 1994 and incorporated in 1996, RFA currently broadcasts in Burmese, Cantonese, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Mandarin, the Wu dialect, Vietnamese, Tibetan (Uke, Amdo and Kham) and Uyghur.

It adheres to the highest standards of journalism and aims to exemplify accuracy, balance and fairness in its editorial content. #####


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